.

Sinead O'Connor Bears "Arms"

Irish songstress goes Rasta in Chicago

November 30, 2005 12:00 AM ET

Throughout an earnest 110 minutes at Chicago's Vic Theatre on Tuesday night, Sinead O'Connor made clear her determination to no longer perform the music that made her famous. Backed by Jamaican masters Sly and Robbie and a six-piece band, O'Connor shunned songs like her Number One hit "Nothing Compares 2 U" in favor of reggae standards sung with an almost religious fervor.

One of pop music's most infamous iconoclasts, O'Connor built her career around confounding people's expectations and reinventing her sound: from wailing electric-guitar-wielding rocker, to heart-wrenching balladeer, to Broadway show-tune diva, to traditional Irish crooner. And while she's certainly invited controversy along the way -- her public protests of the Pope and the American national anthem perhaps overshadowed her music -- anybody questioning the sincerity of her latest persona just had to watch her shuffle and sway to the Caribbean-inflected rhythms to grasp her spiritual connection to reggae music and Rastafarian culture. At the Vic, O'Connor took her new musical endeavor so seriously, it was all but impossible for audience members not to do the same.

Introduced as "Sister Sinead," O'Connor strode onstage in a loose blue shirt, jeans and a headscarf covering her famously shaven head. She led with a hushed, acoustic version of "Jah Nuh Dead," the opening song from her new collection of reggae covers, Throw Down Your Arms. Her effervescent rendition of Burning Spear's "Marcus Garvey," colored by blaring, staccato bursts of saxophone and trombone, paid homage to the black nationalist with its celebratory melody and set the evening's tone.

For its part, the crowd was remarkably attentive, only shouting requests in the final encore. O'Connor introduced her final song, "Jah Is My Keeper," remarking that it was written by her favorite songwriter. When somebody in the audience screamed "Prince!" -- the writer of "Nothing Compares to U" -- O'Connor biliously snapped, "No, Peter fucking Tosh! Fuck that fucking midget!"

Otherwise, the show skimped on drama, focusing instead on O'Connor's still stunning vocals, which rose to a ululating high on "Vampire." "A true Rasta man always humble," she cried. An equally riveting, horn-flecked version of Bob Marley's "War" also allowed O'Connor to belt, while an acoustic performance of the reggae classic "Untold Stories" demonstrated her versatility and musical muscle.

Throughout the show, O'Connor invested her biggest asset -- her voice -- into the songs, emphasizing the spiritual struggles inherent in the lyrics. Her intensely personal singing, along with drummer Sly Dunbar's inventive playing, prevented the material from ever seeming repetitive -- a challenge, considering much of the music's similarity in structure and rhythm.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

prev
Music Main Next
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.

X

We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Santa Monica”

Everclear | 1996

After his brother and girlfriend both died of drug overdoses, Art Alexakis -- depressed and hooked on drugs himself -- jumped off the Santa Monica Pier in California, determined to die. "It was really stupid," said the Everclear frontman, who would further explore his personal emotional journey in the song "Father of Mine." "I went under the water. Then I said, 'I don't wanna die.'" The song, declaring "Let's swim out past the breakers/and watch the world die," was intended as a manifesto for change, Alexakis said. "Let the world do what it's gonna do and just live on our own."

More Song Stories entries »
 
www.expandtheroom.com